Original Link: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/news/opinion/article_a188dbdc-07bc-11df-9b17-001cc4c002e0.html
It was a tough week for clean elections, both at the state and national levels.
Close to home, in Madison, Wisconsin Manu-facturers and Commerce finally got what it has pursued relentlessly for years:
A bought-and-paid-for conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday decided that justices should be allowed to hear cases involving even their biggest campaign contributors.
Not exactly a confidence booster for the little guy looking for impartiality in the state's court system.
That would have been enough bad news on the clean government front for one day, but there was more - much more: A ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States will open the floodgates for more corporate and union money in federal elections.
By a predictable 5-4 margin, the court ruled in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission that corporations should be treated in the same way as individuals are treated when it comes to political speech.
The reaction from clean government and campaign finance reform advocates was swift and harsh. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign put it this way: "(F)ive of the nine justices ruled that money is speech, corporations are people, public offices are commodities and elections are the marketplace where these commodities are bought and sold."
The first two observations are spot on, and the second two, while hyperbolic now, could eventually turn out to be legitimate descriptions of the long-term effects of this ruling. While it keeps in place rules that prohibit corporations and unions from donating directly to specific candidates or directly to parties, it lets corporations and unions directly promote and attack specific candidates and eliminates restrictions on flooding the airwaves within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election.
The ban on "soft money" - corporations' donations to political parties - in McCain-Feingold stands, but this new potential for corporate money to dominate electoral politics means more work for Wisconsin's junior senator.
"I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible," Feingold said in response to the high court's ruling.
Corporations are part of American life. They are essential elements of our market economy. They provide entrepreneurs and investors tools and protections that make possible the innovations that have made ours the most productive economy and most prosperous nation on Earth.
But corporations also need to be held accountable, as demonstrated all too clearly by the Enron and Worldcom debacles of several years ago and the near-meltdown of the world economy caused in large part by the behavior of the investment banking industry.
Bestowing even greater "personhood" on this construct we call a corporation was a grave mistake, one the Supreme Court will eventually recognize. Until then, our legislators need to continue to fight the undue influence of these players in our politics, lest we find ourselves in a world in which we identify our senators and representatives by company rather than party, by union rather than state.